We were discussing language in a class. Can anything exist without language? Some people say, yes everything exists without it. Some people say what about symbols? But symbols are language. What about feelings? But what are feelings if we can’t discern and disseminate them through language?
Foucault talks about language in Madness and Civilization. I read this in undergrad but I still remember the Ship of Fools- those that live on the exterior of society, rebelling from the system. Even rebelling requires knowledge of language, and language becomes a tool with which to give objects significance, create meaning, and then preserve a language through meaning whether it’s a reflection or a differing response to it.
Thinking is informing us through definitions. We can grasp a utopian fantasy of being outside of this system of thinking but there is still an internal system of significance. And there’s always a system within us working, changing, evolving.
Textiles in fashion fascinate me because they symbolize a departure from normality. Runway fashion and museum fashion is often extravagant, expensive and even unwearable. It’s made to embody a meaning. Fashion by Viktor and Rolf, for example, when they created a trench coat with weird oblong letters shaped in 3D form over the coat were at once showcasing a conventional form of uniform (the trench coat was initially made for soldiers by Burberry) but it also breaks convention with multidimensional words like “dream”, that conjure up opposing fantastical images to our brains than military conformity.
So you may now ask but does it really not exist if there are no words? Well first of all no words creates frustration because we will try to make words and fail. If we know more languages and words we tend to be happier because we have more ways in which to understand our own emotions and behaviors. But also, if a tree falls in the woods without hearing it does it exist? Yes it does but not in our realities. We immediately form languages, whether they’re conventional or not, to comprehend our realities. That’s what makes us something real, whatever that may be.
I think language in words is limited. Especially when we lack information, or concepts, or approach things from different backgrounds and connotations and modes of understanding. Words are probably the most deliciously appealing and most frustrating and limited form of communication. They have become more technical, choppy, crunched into short, abbreviated forms. They are spliced and interwoven into the languages of other countries and computers. But they are just words. Language exists on multiple levels. Even if we argue about it here with words, we are building in our minds, ideas through visual concepts, through symbols and memories and emotional connections. Every bit of our existence is built upon these connections and internal structures of understanding, that are changing, and deconstructed, and disseminated, and rebuilt over time.
Language exists in everything and that it is vital to our existence: Language of the body. Language of touch. Language in our expressions, in our clothes, in the way we carry ourselves. The language of music, or visual arts, of dance, of sex. It is our consciousness, in our minds but down to the very molecules that build up to the being that we imagine ourselves to be.
The dialogue that exists between ourselves and our bodies, ourselves and others, and with nature, and with other living organisms. Conscious language, in words, symbols, and concepts, and unconscious language, that influences our intuition and our mechanical responses. Language is inherent in everything, it is how we accrue significance, and significance is in definition language. So even if we were to lose the ability to speak, to define, to discern, or to reason, there are a multitude of ways in which we communicate and exist, and all of these together are language.
Having said all that I don’t think we can even justify a reality without words, and the confines of words. That’s why I strive to grasp more of them to realize what I see around me. In the simplest of time, during the time of cave men and australopithecines language existed to grasp what was necessary for the existence of the times. And yet everything around us has increased in complexity and growing detached from our bodies and nature we yearn to understand the disconnect that is happening all around us, and to build a system that can patch the cuts separating us from others and ourselves.
Derrida would be the first to critique and break apart our systems of defining language. But he also realizes the inherent existence of language, or significance and meaning, in everything that we can understand. He says “Every discourse, even a poetic or oracular sentence, carries with it a system of rules for producing analogous things and thus an outline of methodology”. As I mentioned before, and I will say again, any rebelling or fantastical utopian view of a world without systematic structures must first, in the state of current consciousness, understand the systems that it chooses to rebel against. ANd even in breaking apart from conventional standards of defining and systematizing one’s self or others, we are born into mental systems that help us to reason, to connect, to build relationships and to communicate. Every dialogue, whether verbal or not, contains these complexities, and cannot be ignored.
Clou le Fou
In conjunction with my photography exploring negative space, I have also been writing in that silent time between midnight and 4am, and here I have gathered memories and words from that space between dreams and reality.